Monday, January 26, 2009

INTERVIEW: 9 things you didn't already know about Hiromi...

Hiromi Uehara is just a few months shy of 30 yrs. old, yet she is already a firmly established international star on Jazz's world stage.

There's something to be said for starting early. She says she believes that her mother's own frustrated childhood musical career resulted fortuitously in her finding a piano teacher for her daughter in their hometown of Shizuoka, Japan, and subsequently enrolling her in private training. Fortunately for Hiromi, her teacher was not only an effective classical piano instructor, she was a big jazz fan. We all owe that teacher, Noriko Hakita, a great debt of gratitude for the day she played an Errol Garner recording for her young student. At that moment the twin topics of jazz and improvisation entered Hiromi's world. At age 8 the young prodigy immediately began learning to improvise on the Mozart, Haydn and other pieces she was studying, and at the same time began listening to a variety of jazz recordings that Noriko played for her. Eventually she heard Japanese jazz artists like Yosuke Yamashita, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Sadao Watanabe, but as natural as the transition from one genre to the other might have been at that point, for largely cultural reasons her studies continued to follow a fairly traditional classical path. She did well. She did very well. At the tender age of 14 she was accomplished enough to be invited to perform with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. But when she chanced to meet Chick Corea at the Yamaha building in Tokyo at 17, and, at his invitation performed with him the very next day, her kharmic wheel took a big turn toward jazz.

Hiromi says she had always wanted to study jazz, and knew that the United Sates was the place to do it. She made her move and enrolled in the Berklee College of Music, where she met another mentor, Ahmad Jamal. Jamal was so impressed that he introduced her to people at Telarc and co-produced her 2003 debut album Another Mind on the label. Her life hasn't been the same since. She says that her Berklee experience has continued to be a wellspring for her -- not only did it help her to get gigs playing piano bars and weddings while she was a student there, Dave Fiuczynski, the guitarist in her current band, Sonicbloom, was recruited from the ranks of its faculty. And just this last New Year's Eve, National Public Radio opened its annual live radio broadcast with Hiromi and Sonicbloom (Fiuczynski, Tony Grey, bass, Martin Valihora, drums) performing live from Berklee's Performance Center.

As it was with many others who have commented on their meeting with her, I was immediately taken with Hiromi's guileless charm and free spirit. It is very real. What you hear in her performances is the expression of a very sincere desire to reach her listener. Her astonishing inventiveness in both improvisational and compositional contexts comes from an incredible, indefatigable energy that she pours into all that she does. The world is a better place for her endlessly creative musicianship and the bright, refreshing tonic it provides us.

The interview I began with Hiromi at midnight in a recording studio had to be cut short and continued by email as she traveled between countries, on what has become the non-stop tour that is her life. This week she's in Switzerland. Hopefully, when she gets a few minutes to breathe, the conversation with Jazz (Jazzers Jazzing) will continue.

J(JJ): You toured Japan with Oscar Peterson in 2004. How did that experience help you with your approach to performance?

It was such an emotional moment. He played Requiem for Ray Brown, and I was watching from the side of the stage. His notes themselves talk. It was some of the deepest music I have ever heard.

J(JJ): You told me at Mad Hatter Studios last month that recording with Chick Corea "was a real learning experience." What did you learn from Chick?

It was like walking in a huge library. His musical vocabularies are so wide and huge. It was like there were so many drawers and I was opening and trying things out and seeing how it goes with what I had.

J(JJ): Which other musicians and composers do you enjoy listening to or studying?


J(JJ): When you give workshops or masters classes to music students, what ideas do you like to communicate to them?

I answer questions from the students... not much on specific things. Sorry, not a good answer.

J(JJ):The music you perform with your band Sonicbloom is very high-energy. How is performing with them different than performing a duet, or solo?

Fundamentally it is the same. "FOCUS" is the single most important thing. Then really dig into the music deeply and internally, and then express it to the outside in different ways.

J(JJ): In a recent article about you, the writer emphasized how positive your music is. This positivity and energy was a key aspect of the early jazz/rock and fusion of bands like Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Headhunters, Weather Report, etc. Do you think the popularity of your music is an indication of a return to this musical style?

I never think in terms of "musical style", so I don't know. I just feel so happy to be able to play music live and communicate with people with energy. Music can turn every kind of emotion into something positive, even the negative feelings such as sadness and madness. That is the magic of music.

J(JJ): When a musician sees a fellow artist become successful, sometimes despite very poorly-made music, do you think this causes resentment, or does it create a desire to make better music?

I never compare with people, so I don't know.

J(JJ): The music I heard you record with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White last month has many surprizes, but it is pretty much a straight-ahead session. Are there other jazz musicians you would like the opportunity to perform or record with?

Far too many. I wish Frank Zappa was still alive....

J(JJ): I know you have been keeping a very busy touring schedule recently. What projects do you have planned for the future?

I would love to work with an orchestra, write my own piano concerto some day.

1 comment:

Dr. Fusion said...

Hello Carl,Thanks a lot for posting this great interview with Hiromi!! She's incredible and I love her music very much. It's also great to hear she likes Zappa but then again, who doesn't :-)

Kindest regards,

Fred aka Dr.Fusion